Washington Post Lays Off Pulitzer Prize-Winning Dance Critic

From a Washington Post story by Sarah Ellison headlined “Washington Post lays off Pulitzer-winning dance critic in spate of cuts”:

The Washington Post has laid off Pulitzer Prize winner Sarah L. Kaufman, one of the last full-time dance critics in the country, as part of a spate of job eliminations announced this week.

Kaufman, who has held her position for a quarter-century, was told her job had been cut Wednesday — the same day Post leaders announced plans to shutter the newspaper’s stand-alone Sunday magazine and lay off its 10 employees. The paper has also eliminated its weekly Style Invitational humor contest, which involved ending the contract of former longtime Post editor and current contributor Pat Myers.

“By eliminating the dance critic position and all that dance coverage can be, The Washington Post is narrowing its arts journalism and its scope. I can’t fathom why this institution is shutting itself off to what dancers and choreographers have to say about our lives and the world we live in,” Kaufman said in an interview.

“My principal concern is what is going to happen to those artists and the wider public knowledge of them,” she added.

The cuts are part of an industry-wide trend, including hundreds of layoffs announced by CNN this week. The Post did not offer laid-off staffers other roles at the paper. Shani George, the newspaper’s vice president of communications, said no further layoffs were planned this week.

The Washington Post Guild responded to the cuts in a tweet, saying, “there is no justification for layoffs amid a year of record hiring and growth.” Despite the layoffs, The Post has lately been adding positions in the coverage of technology, the climate, health and wellness, and in overseas news hubs.

Kaufman became The Post’s dance critic in 1996, chosen by a nationwide search after working as a copy editor at the paper for several years and writing freelance dance reviews.

She won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2010 for a package of stories that included one of her favorites — a retrospective on Cary Grant. “A person’s way of moving through space tells us something on a base, primitive level,” Kaufman wrote in the story. “It’s animal to animal. It’s something so subtle you may not consciously notice it, but when an actor moves honestly and with intention, your eye will follow him anywhere.”

More recently, she wrote several pieces exploring art and neuroscience. “This is your brain on art” was an immersive video package that considered “Swan Lake” through its effect on a viewer’s brain. Kaufman also interviewed GoldLink, a Grammy-nominated rapper, to explore how the brain was affected by freestyle rap.

Kaufman occasionally dabbled in film reviews, critiquing the Marilyn Monroe biopic “Blonde” for its failure to showcase the star’s dancing skills. She analyzed the body language of a 2016 presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. She even wrote about the Tour de France as art.

Her final story published Thursday afternoon: “A new ballet tips ‘Evita’ Perón off her pedestal.”

“What I’ve done maybe a little differently is I’ve really tried to expand the notion of what dance is and what a dance critic can do,” said Kaufman, whom colleagues described as a gifted writer, deeply committed to her beat, and thoughtful about ways movement and grace transcended the art form.

Indeed, in 2016, she published a book, “The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life.”

Kaufman was one of the last two full-time dance critics in the country as of 2015, according to the Atlantic.

“I have had the great fortune to meet and be inspired by so many extraordinary artists every day of my career,” Kaufman said Thursday. “It’s been a stupendous gift to be immersed in one of the world’s great art forms.”

Sarah Ellison is a staff writer based in New York for The Washington Post. Previously, she wrote for Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, where she started as a news assistant in Paris.

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